When the Lights Go Out

Chris Messina in Devil (2010)

On a normal enough day 5 strangers Tony (Logan Marshall-Green), a mechanic who has seen active duty; salesman (Geoffrey Arend) who can't stop trying to sell mattresses; a moaning old woman (Jenny O'Hara); Ben (Bokeem Woodbine), a temporary security guard and the attractive Sara (Bojana Novakovic) end up stuck in a lift. As the engineer tries to get them out the buildings guards watch from their surveillance cameras as to what is going on inside and when Sara is cut when the lights go out they call the police. Philadelphia P.D. detective, Bowden (Chris Messina) arrives and along with the security guards observe via the cameras what is going on and become aware that every time the lights go out something bad happens from people being hurt to being killed with one of the guards convinced that the devil is involved.

Any movie which is predominantly or partly set in a claustrophobic location should generate atmosphere and so with its story being primarily set in a lift "Devil" should be oozing with atmosphere. But that is the movie's problem because for what is a good idea by M. Night Shyamalan the end product never reaches the level of atmosphere to make this movie electric. It ends up making us passive observers to some paranormal activity in a lift more curious as to why rather than fearing what happens.

Bojana Novakovic in Devil (2010)

Now I love the basic idea of a lift with 5 strangers that each time when the lights go out something really bad happens. I also like the idea that through a coincidence the people in the lift can't communicate with the outside but only hear what is being said to them through the speaker. It makes for this interesting scenario where Bowden has to not only work out what is going on in the lift but also work out who they are so that he can try and work out the connections.

The trouble is that this takes the drama to the outside of the lift which rips the atmosphere right out of the movie and those inside the lift end up as just puppets of destruction. And that makes us just observers of all the supernatural stuff rather than feeling part of it. It's still entertaining with the whole puzzle of trying to work out what is what but it feels like director John Erick Dowdle missed a trick.

Thankfully whilst the atmosphere may be lacking the cinematography isn't and Tak Fujimoto has done a fantastic job of creating some unique camera angles. And when those angles are combined with the supernatural special effects it makes "Devil" visually pleasing.

What this all boils down to is that "Devil" is an okay movie thanks to the interesting premise and nice camera work. But for a movie which has half the action taking place in a lift the lack of atmosphere is a disappointment.

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